Life ends at 45... Study reveals when our mental powers start to diminish

Huge survey carried out on Whitehall civil servants shows our brains peak earlier that we think

Hone those chess skills, pick up that crossword and solve the sudoku – a major study has found that our brains start deteriorating at the age of 45 – more than a decade earlier than had been thought.

Previous research had suggested that cognitive performance – memory, reasoning and comprehension skills – did not begin to decline until the age of 60.

But if the earlier onset is proved it could be a warning signal about dementia, which is set to become the major health challenge of the 21st century. Studies have linked modest differences in cognitive performance in early life with increased risk of dementia.

The study, conducted among Whitehall civil servants over a decade, found that among those aged 45-49 at the start there was a 3.6 per cent decline in mental reasoning in both sexes over the next ten years. Among those aged 65-70, the decline increased to 9.6 per cent among men and 7.4 per cent among women over the following decade.

Performance in reasoning, memory and verbal fluency were all affected. But vocabulary, which is known to be little influenced by age, was unaffected.

Participants were tested on their reasoning power with 65 questions involving multiplying two figures, completing a pattern or filling in a word sequence. They had 10 minutes, with the best getting all 65 questions right.

Two types of verbal fluency were tested by asking them to name all the animals they could think of in one minute and all the words beginning with "S". The top scores were 36 animals and 32 "S" words.

On memory they listened to a list of 20 words and had to recall as many as possible in one minute. The maximum score was 18. Archana Singh Manoux, who led the study by the Centre for Research in Population Health in France and University College, London, said: "Cognitive performance is complex. It is a combination of knowledge and speed. If you are looking for words but it takes you 10 minutes it is not much use."

The results demonstrated the importance of acting early to ward of premature mental decline. Diet, smoking, physical exercise were all important, she said, because emerging evidence showed "what is good for our hearts is also good for our heads".

Leisure activities also mattered. "If you play chess and can plan six moves in advance then you are probably going to be all right," Ms Manoux said.

The findings in the British Medical Journal, show a significant decline on all tests, except vocabulary. Although the decline was most marked in reasoning, it might turn out that memory decline was more significant in the development of dementia, she said.

She added: "There is a lot of research going on into Nintendo games for the elderly. The findings so far are inconclusive but that might be because the participants are too old and should start at a younger age."

In the BMJ, Francine Grodstein, of the Brigham and Women's hospital in the US, says the study has "potentially profound implications" for dementia by indicating that efforts to prevent it may need to begin in adults as young as 45.

Are you smarter than a 45-year-old? Take the test

1. Easy means the opposite of: Problem, simple, difficult, always, cannot.

2. 15 35 55 75 95: What number comes next?

3. Seed is to plant as egg is to: tree, bird, pollen, oats, potato.

4. Here are three figures, 234. Divide the biggest figure by the smallest and add the result to the figure printed immediately after the smallest figure.

5. Right means the opposite of

Action, good, careless, wrong, motive.

6. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. Add the first five figures together and subtract them from the sum of the last four.

7. Army is to Navy as soldier is to: airman, sea, service, sailor, uniform.

8. If castle is bigger than cottage, write down the second of these figures: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. If it is not, then write down the sixth.

9. 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, 1/5, 1/6. What number comes next?

10. If G is the seventh letter of the alphabet and Wednesday is not a month of the year, divide 63 by 7. Otherwise subtract 3 from 5. Write down your answer.

11. Here are three figures: 672. Add the largest two figures and divide the total by the smallest figure.

12. Sky is to ground as ceiling is to: roof, down, floor, rug, high.

13. If 8 is more than 3, write down 7, unless 3 is more than 7, in which case write 8.

14. When is to where as time is to: how, why, space, length, relativity.

15. 0.9, 1.1, 1.3, 1.5, 1.7. What comes next?

Answers

1. Difficult; 2. 115; 3. bird; 4. 5; 5. wrong; 6. 15; 7. sailor; 8. 2; 9. 1/7; 10. 9; 11. 6.5; 12. floor; 13. 7; 14. space; 15. 1.9.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
News
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
News
newsChester Zoo have revealed their newest members
Sport
sportLeague Managers' Association had described Malky Mackay texts as 'friendly banter'
News
The video, titled 'A Message to America', was released a day after Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot that has overrun large parts of Iraq, threatened to attack Americans 'in any place'. U.S. officials said they were working to determine the video's authenticity
i100
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
tvSpielberg involved in bringing his 2002 film to the small screen
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Data Insight Manager - Marketing

    £32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

    Data Insight Manager

    £40000 - £43000 Per Annum plus company bonus: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant - IT

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Computer Futures has been est...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultants

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

    Day In a Page

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape